Lights tuned to birds' eyes may help reduce bird-aircraft collisions

April 08, 2015

Collisions with birds are one of the most common hazards to aircraft, causing $700 million in damage annually in the U.S. A study published this week in The Condor: Ornithological Applications may have important implications for reducing bird strikes through the customization of aircraft and runway lights to birds' visual systems. Megan Doppler and Esteban Fernández-Juricic of Purdue University and Bradley Blackwell and Travis DeVault of the National Wildlife Research Center's Ohio Field Station conducted experiments involving captive cowbirds and remote-controlled aircraft to test how the birds reacted to a variety of lights.

Birds' eyes are different from human eyes in several key ways, and Doppler and her colleagues determined that blue light (light with a 470-nm wavelength) would be most conspicuous to the Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) used in their study. Outfitting a remote-controlled model airplane with lights in this color, they tested how the captive flock reacted to continuous versus pulsing lights and to a stationary versus approaching aircraft. When the aircraft was stationary, cowbirds became alert more quickly when the lights were on than when they were off. When the aircraft approached the birds with lights off, their response times slowed as the aircraft's speed increased, but lights helped mitigate this effect.

"In previous studies, we have demonstrated that avian response to vehicle approach can be enhanced by increasing the conspicuousness of the approaching vehicle with white lights," explains Dr. Fernández-Juricic. "However, in this study, we followed a sensory ecology approach to establish a-priori a light that would be particularly conspicuous to our study species and tested the responses of individuals to this light tuned to their eyes. In addition, we showed that by pulsing the light, we reduced the effects of high speeds on the ability of the animals to become alert to the approaching aircraft. These findings hold implications for how we might enhance bird response to larger, faster aircraft."

The authors have several suggestions for applying their findings to real-world situations. Stationary lights along runways could by synced with taxiing aircraft to help capture birds' attention before aircraft take off. Lights onboard the aircraft could be off during taxiing but on during takeoff itself to improve birds' ability to detect and react to such large, fast-moving objects. With some tweaking, similar approaches may even be applicable to reducing bird strikes with large stationary structures such as towers and wind turbines. In any case, selecting lights based on their conspicuousness to birds' visual systems may be an important step forward in reducing one of the most common and hazardous human-wildlife interactions.
-end-
"Cowbirds responses to aircraft with lights tuned to their eyes: Implications for bird-aircraft collisions" is available at http://www.aoucospubs.org/doi/full/10.1650/CONDOR-14-157.1.

About the journal

The Condor: Ornithological Applications is a peer-reviewed, international journal of ornithology. The journal began in 1899 as the journal of the Cooper Ornithological Club, a group of ornithologists in California that became the Cooper Ornithological Society.

Central Ornithology Publication Office

Related Birds Articles from Brightsurf:

In a warming climate, can birds take the heat?
We don't know precisely how hot things will get as climate change marches on, but animals in the tropics may not fare as well as their temperate relatives.

Dull-colored birds don't see the world like colorful birds do
Bengalese finches -- also called the Society finch -- are a species of brown, black and white birds that don't rely on colorful signals when choosing a mate.

Some dinosaurs could fly before they were birds
New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

If it's big enough and leafy enough the birds will come
A new study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology highlights specific features of urban green spaces that support the greatest diversity of bird species.

How do birds understand 'foreign' calls?
New research from Kyoto University show that the coal tit (Periparus ater) can eavesdrop and react to the predatory warning calls of the Japanese tit (Parus minor) and evokes a visual image of the predator in their mind

Microelectronics for birds
Ornithologists and physicists from St Petersburg University have conducted an interdisciplinary study together with colleagues from Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Biological Station Rybachy of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Birds of a feather better not together
A new study of North American birds from Washington University in St.

Not-so-dirty birds? Not enough evidence to link wild birds to food-borne illness
Despite the perception that wild birds in farm fields can cause food-borne illness, a WSU study has found little evidence linking birds to E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.

Birds are shrinking as the climate warms
After 40 years of collecting birds that ran into Chicago buildings, scientists have been able to show that the birds have been shrinking as the climate's warmed up.

Diving birds follow each other when fishing
Diving seabirds watch each other to work out when to dive, new research shows.

Read More: Birds News and Birds Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.